The Ballad Of Darren


Parlophone, 2023

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Although Blur’s newest album arrives eight years after their last outing The Magic Whip, it’s being considered as the first proper Blur album since 1999’s 13, the last time the band got along and played together with a purpose in the recording studio. A refresher on that: 2002’s Think Tank was recorded without guitarist Graham Coxon and Magic Whip was a series of demos recorded during an extended Asian stay (when a concert was cancelled in 2013) that Coxon later shaped into songs.

For a reunion album, though, The Ballad Of Darren is pretty understated, 10 songs in 36 minutes, many with a gray melancholy that matches the top half of the album cover. Breakups are a heavy theme on this album; Damon Albarn apparently saved all his joy for the new Gorillaz album earlier this year, and there are several moments where this feels like one of his solo outings. (I know you’re wondering: Darren is the band’s longtime security guard.) my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Like pretty much every other middle-aged rock band that was big two decades ago, the music here is appropriately grown-up, mature, stately, reflective. For the most part, this isn’t the Blur of “Girls And Boys” or “Popscene” or “Parklife”; this is now a thoughtful band that layers slow-moving ballads like “The Everglades” with strings and offers melancholy, but not somber, reveries on loss.

At times, this works well, as on the self-reflective “The Narcissist” and “Russian Strings,” but much of the album drifts by in a fog; there’s a Sonic Youth-esque feedback display that ends the album on “The Heights,” but it’s out of place and ends the album on a dishonest note. Second single “St. Charles Square” is atypical as well and the best song here, evoking the Blur of old with a twist of latter-period David Bowie and some guitar skronk. More like this would have been welcome.

Bowie, it should be noted, released a couple of interesting albums before his death that had their share of drama and pathos along with plenty of noise. This is the route that Albarn appears to be taking with his flagship band, opting to save the weird and the wonder for Gorillaz, but the songwriting magic falls short on Ballad Of Darren even if it’s good to have the quartet back together again properly. But a bit of Cracker Island energy—or Parklife attitude—would have gone a long way here. Yes, it’s age appropriate. Yes, it’s meticulous and polished. Yes, fans will be so happy to have their band back that they’ll convince themselves this is a great album, not merely a fine one that won’t elicit many replays outside of the aforementioned highlights.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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